In today’s society, equity in schools is more important than ever. Whether it’s equal access to educational resources or protecting the rights of students, making sure that all students have the opportunity to fulfill their potential should be a priority for schools.
I’m often asked how schools, districts, and educators can begin their equity journeys, and my response, no matter who I am talking to and what stage they are in their journey towards inclusive practices, is to first and foremost define the term equity.
Defining the Term Equity
If you ask a handful of educators to define the term equity you may be surprised at the range of responses. The term “equity” has become a polarizing term for many people, and I think it is because it is often misrepresented.
Equity is not a term that has a universal definition. Societally, it has been defined in many different ways, in many different contexts. Context matters. It is essential to have a clear understanding of what equity means in the context of your work, in order to build a shared sense of understanding and ownership of how it will be honored and implemented in your setting. Do not simply make an assumption that all of your stakeholders share the same definition and interpretation.
When we don't define the terms that we utilize, we make assumptions that every person uses the same definition, and have the same conceptual framework that we're operating with. And when we're not able to have a shared definition and ownership of what equity means, in our context, for our agency, school or school district, we run into the circumstances where we say the term equity, we believe in it, are committed to it, while being in silent conflict with each other. Sometimes, not only are we not on the same page; we may not even be reading from the same book. This often leads to confusion, disappointment, frustration, push-back, infighting, chaos, and no progress made toward implementing equitable practices.
Equity is NOT passive. It takes being proactive, challenging existing structures and systems, and fighting against the status quo.
We need to have that lightning rod moment of saying this is what equity is. And this is what it means in our circumstances. For example, I embraced the definition of equity that was offered by Dr. Christopher Emdin. And it simply states that equity is hearing the voices of others, about what they need and providing them with that. I love that definition because it's simplistic and it lifts up the fact that there is a difference between listening and hearing. When we only listen, what someone is telling us might go in one ear and out the other. But when we hear, we actually take into consideration the perspective and the experience of others, we're providing them with agency, and then we are inspired to take action. Equity is NOT passive. It takes being proactive, challenging existing structures and systems, and fighting against the status quo.
Calibrating for Equity
After we have established the definition of equity in our context, then we have to go through the process of calibration. We must ensure that all stakeholders have a shared conceptual framework and narrative of what it is and what it looks like in our context. If we don't take this step, we might find ourselves in a circumstance of believing that we're all working together on equity when in fact, we are working toward different goals. Once you have taken the steps to define and calibrate for equity in your setting, then and only then can we begin the process of working on equity.
How to Calibrate on Equity:
- 1. Establish a Unified Definition:
- Engage stakeholders to collaboratively define equity within your specific context.
- 2. Develop a Shared Narrative:
- Craft a narrative or story that illustrates the application of equity within your institution. This narrative should vividly depict what equity means in practice, using real-life examples, scenarios, or case studies.
- Ensure this narrative reflects the agreed-upon definition and conceptual framework.
- 3. Ensure Stakeholder Alignment:
- Disseminate the defined equity statement, and narrative to all stakeholders.
- Conduct workshops, training sessions, or discussions to ensure a shared understanding of equity. Encourage active participation and clarification of any ambiguities.
- 4. Implement and Evaluate:
- Take action to integrate this definition, narrative and principles into policies and practices, regularly evaluating effectiveness and making adjustments as needed.
- Continue to offer ongoing, high-quality professional development to your team to support their practice.
By following this process, an educational institution can establish a cohesive understanding of equity, align stakeholders, and lay the groundwork for effective action towards creating a more equitable learning environment.
This is just the starting stages, to continue on your journey towards creating an equitable school, explore the options below:
- To learn more about equity in education, why it is important, and how to create a more equitable learning environment yourself, start by diving in and exploring our guide to equity in education
- Explore our professional development catalog then let’s discuss the best next steps for you and your team
- Take Mirko's course, Equity By Design and learn to equip students & teachers with the will, skill, and collective capacity to enact positive change